The silencing of repetitive transposable elements (TEs) is ensured by signal amplification of the initial small RNA trigger, which occurs at distinct steps of TE silencing in different eukaryotes. How such a variety of secondary small RNA biogenesis mechanisms has evolved has not been thoroughly elucidated. Ciliated protozoa perform small RNA-directed programmed DNA elimination of thousands of TE-related internal eliminated sequences (IESs) in the newly developed somatic nucleus. In the ciliate Paramecium, secondary small RNAs are produced after the excision of IESs. In this study, we show that in another ciliate, Tetrahymena, secondary small RNAs accumulate at least a few hours before their derived IESs are excised. We also demonstrate that DNA excision is dispensable for their biogenesis in this ciliate. Therefore, unlike in Paramecium, small RNA amplification occurs before IES excision in Tetrahymena This study reveals the remarkable diversity of secondary small RNA biogenesis mechanisms, even among ciliates with similar DNA elimination processes, and thus raises the possibility that the evolution of TE-targeting small RNA amplification can be traced by investigating the DNA elimination mechanisms of ciliates.
Keywords: DNA elimination; Tetrahymena; ciliate; small RNA; transposon silencing.